Cox’s Bazar & Chittagong

Friday, 27 April 2018

My recent Bangladesh trip was primarily to visit the Rohingya refugee camps south of Cox’s Bazar, where the Myanmar army has shoved half a million of their Muslim citizens out of the country and in to refugee camps across the border in Bangladesh. It’s been described as ethnic cleansing and genocide and I’d definitely agree with both descriptions.

Cox’s Bazar, as well as being the nearest city to the refugee crisis, is also a major Bangladesh holiday site due to its 125km long beach. It really is quite an impressive beach and the Bangladeshis are very proud of it.

▲ Coming back from visiting the Kutupalong camps we arrived at the beach and turned north to Cox’s Bazar just after sunset. These fishing sampans were drawn up along the beach, Bangladesh has an amazing variety of boats, you can study them in Boats: A Treasure of Bangladesh, an impressive coffee table book by Enayetullah Khan & Yves Marre from the Bangladesh publisher Cosmos Books. For some reason it’s very expensive from Amazon (US$355), much cheaper (US$71) from the publisher.

▲ The next morning I strolled along the beach at Cox’s Bazar, noting the Women’s Swimming Zone.

▲ And the general confusion along the water’s edge, there were even a few surfers on the waves a little further along the beach.

▲ Plus an endless row of beach recliners for any holidaymakers keen on topping up their suntans.

◄ The lifeguard’s chair looks just like you’d find on a beach in the west anywhere from Bondi in Sydney to Santa Monica in Los Angeles.

From Cox’s Bazar I travelled north to Chittagong and visited the shipbreaking beaches in Sitakunda, just north of the city before returning to Bangladesh’s second largest city and visiting the Chittagong War Cemetery. Like any Commonwealth War Cemetery it’s beautifully kept and terribly sad. The young men and women buried here principally died fighting the Japanese in neighbouring Burma in the long WW II campaign.

I went on to visit the Zia Memorial Museum, in what was at one time the old British Circuit House.

Ziaur Rahman was a military leader in the war with Pakistan, the war which created Bangladesh, and read the declaration of independence on the radio in 1971. Then he was president from 1977 to 1981 when he was assassinated by a group of dissident army officers in this house. It’s a rather dull museum, lots of photographs of Zia, many of them with other world leaders during his spell as president, a lot of personal effects – ie lots of shirts which seem to have just come back from the hotel laundry, still in their plastic packaging. At least there’s a recreation of him reading the independence declaration, but the story of his assassination is essentially skipped right over, even though they’ve got the bed he hopped out of, the bloodstains on the wall and the bullet marks on the tiled floor.

The next morning I walked through Patharghata looking for St Placid’s Portuguese Church with it’s very Portuguese (I assume) and rather colourful cemetery. There are lots of Gomes, Pereiras and assorted other Portuguese sounding names, but also lots of Randolphs buried there.

▲ Nearby from the Karnaphuli Mariners Park I could look upstream to the big Shah Amanat Bridge across the Karnaphuli River. I’d come across the bridge on the way in to Chittagong from Cox’s Bazar. The park consists of a number of riverside rectangles connected by little bridges. There are many traditional fishing boats here, some just moored, some being worked on, fishing nets being repaired, everybody’s very friendly.

▲ There were even some traditional wooden boats under construction and from nearby Sadarghat boats shuttle across the river if you want a look at the Karnaphuli River from out on the water.

◄ At the end of the day, however, it was the Rohingya refugees near Cox’s Bazar who were my reason for visiting Bangladesh and this circle of children’s shoes outside a classroom tell the story.